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Microsoft bulks up Azure to make it easier to build, expand cloud services

San Francisco -- Microsoft is making it simpler for business applications in its Azure cloud to automatically turn services up and down as demand requires and for apps to incorporate features of Office 365, company executives told the Build 2013 developer conference.

The company announced that a preview is available of its Azure Auto Scale capability, which lets applications increase and decrease cloud services as needed. So if CPU use of a particular virtual server in Azure hit a threshold, the app could call for another virtual machine.

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Similarly, a feature called Cloud Service Auto Scale enables apps to call for more resources to improve response time. If a business had an online sales app and there were a spike in traffic that caused the queue to exceed a threshold, the app could call for another server. The queues would be shorter and customers would be served faster.

The company also announced that Azure Active Directory services can be synced with on-premises Active Directory servers so users can sign in once to reach both on-premises and Azure-based applications.

Microsoft is taking this one step further and giving apps the ability to register with Active Directory so users can be given access to the app without having to sign into a separate user account associated with the application.

This feature can save considerable time vs. the alternative of creating separate, individual user accounts for each end user in the app itself and requiring users to sign into the application separately. If an app defines different roles for users, authorization for those roles can also be set in Azure Active Directory and synced with Active Directory o- premises. So via Active Directory alone an admin can parcel out roles to end users.

The same single sign-in can be extended to software as a service. An independent software developer could base software as a service app in Azure and customers could sync the relevant portions of Active Directory to the SaaS vendor's Active Directory and assign customers' employees appropriate roles.

From a security standpoint, if an employee's rights to use an app are revoked, removing authorization from Active Directory will cut them from enterprise based apps as well as SaaS apps based in Azure, Microsoft says. This SaaS identity management is coming soon, Microsoft says.

SaaS vendors will also be able to tap their customers' policies in order to extend the functionality of their applications. The hypothetical example Microsoft used was a reservation app for an airlines through which customers could book plane flights. If one tried to book a first-class flight, the app could check via Microsoft's BizTalk business-process automation platform whether that was authorized under corporate policies. If not, the app could display a message saying the first-class ticket was denied and requires authorization of a supervisor.

Setting up the logic of the call between the app and BizTalk has been streamlined with new tools that make it simple to enable apps outside the enterprise to access just the enterprise information it needs, Microsoft says. These transactions can be monitored by admins and audits are kept through Windows Azure BizTalk services. A preview of these services is available now, Microsoft announced.Businesses will also be able to incorporate information and services that are part of Office 365 into applications. So presence information, document libraries, workflows and the like that are elements of Office 365 can be built into applications.

The example given was a human-resources app to collect applications to fill vacant  jobs. The app could tap an Office file containing information about the person submitting a recommendation, or it could post to the corporate social network the name of the person who just posted a candidate's name.

Developers would access these capabilities via a set of APIs into Outlook 365.

Tim Greene covers Microsoft and unified communications for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter@Tim_Greene.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.


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